Keep It Burning
Traditions were made to be broken. Wait a second, that's not right. What was it that's made to be broken again?
Every time any Dartmouth event of consequence comes around, we're always faced with the same hysterics from the College; threats loom over everything. There's always the possibility that this year could be the last for pretty much every annual tradition we love. I'm hoping that in the case of the bonfire this is just a scare tactic to coerce people into behaving themselves, but to me it seems to be a sad state of affairs when we have to hope that it's just a scare tactic -- these threats shouldn't exist at all.
One of the most exciting aspects of Dartmouth to a wide-eyed high school senior considering attendance is that, being the ninth-oldest school in the country, it is steeped in tradition. As the College changes over the years, reshaping the physical appearance of campus, the diversity of the student body and its image, these traditions provide some continuity, some reminders of the fact that we're walking the same campus as 231 previous years of students.
Of course, most of the traditions I'm referring to have not been around for nearly that long. Some, like the keg-jump, can barely even qualify as a tradition, considering their relatively brief existence in the overall context of the school's history. Many, though, are so long-standing that for all intents and purposes they are what makes Dartmouth Dartmouth. The DOC trip stands out as a classic example of how strangers to the community are introduced to a vast number of traditions. Fraternities have long been a staple, and each is steeped in its own traditions as well. And, most pertinent now, the bonfire is one of Dartmouth's most visible traditions.
Homecoming last year without a doubt stands out more than any other experience from my freshman year. Something about seeing a thousand kids in green running through the street screaming really makes you feel like you're part of a tradition. Running around the bonfire scantily-clad an arbitrary number of times (it was DEFINITELY more than 103), being beaten with any number of long objects by any number of people, having your shirt thrown into the fire and turning a nice crispy pink as a result of the hellish heat is all part of an event experienced by many classes before and hopefully many classes in the future. It is really the only chance upperclassmen have to see the whole freshmen class unified in this one manifestation of Dartmouth and the first on-campus experience for freshmen to feel that they belong here. It's almost like a tame, beneficial form of hazing; a true sign that you're part of a tradition-rich environment.
The irony in all this is that Dartmouth picked every student on this campus out of a vast pool of applicants for admission and, every year, brags about how great the incoming class is in every way: smartest, most diverse, most active, most aesthetically appealing. However, as soon as the initial honeymoon is over, after the school is done praising the virtues of the student body that should theoretically give it the top magazine ranking, as soon as the freshmen are inflated with pride that they are attending such an incredible institution, the bubble bursts when administrators degenerate to distrust and threats, fearing the irresponsible, reckless, illicit behavior of the students they once valued so much.
So, to step as far away as I can from my raging cynicism, I have an idea for the school: never lose that initial love for the students. Remember that these are the same people who looked so great in their applications and so honest and hard-working in their interviews. But they're also the same people who want to have fun, who are coming to school to mature, explore themselves and have the best four years of their lives. This is our school. The traditions that we continue reveal that Dartmouth is being passed down to us. Wherever we go, we will be Dartmouth alumni. I'm going to be proud of that because I am proud of the school, how I'm involved and the feeling I get knowing that I'm attending such a tradition-rich institution.
I don't want the experience to be marred by rules preventing me from being able to feel like I'm part of the community and enjoy my time here. This is a time for us, not for administrators who have already had their college experiences (including, I'm sure, a few transgressions). If college is a time for growth, how do we take advantage if everything we try to do is obstructed by a new rule preventing us? I want the decisions about what is good for me left up to me, and I want to be trusted for the decisions I end up making; the college trusted me enough to let me in. And most importantly, I want to be able to feel like I belong here, like I'm part of the community: I want to be trusted enough to carry on the traditions that make going to Dartmouth so unique. Now let's see some fire!